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Supreme Court Set To Rule On Trump Immunity Claim; Candidates Prepare For Historic Presidential Debate On CNN; U.S.: Hezbollah Could Overwhelm Israel's Iron Dome. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 21, 2024 - 05:30   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now to discuss, Nevada Independent D.C. correspondent, Gabby Birenbaum. And Washington Examiner congressional reporter, Samantha-Jo Roth. Good morning to you both. Thanks for joining me this early morning.

It's kind of interesting. You talk to Republicans all the time. How do they view Trump's claim of calling for total immunity? Some of them are kind of like where Mike Rounds is where they don't really believe that Donald Trump deserves total immunity, and others say he absolutely should be protected at all costs.

SAMANTHA-JO ROTH, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yeah, it's a really interesting dynamic here because you're going to see a lot of Republicans who are not offering that full support of immunity. And that is so much unlike a lot of the other topics we see where they full-throatedly support the former president in all of his pursuits.

But you'll just hear across the board some of them believe full immunity -- or not full immunity, but that they should be held accountable. And you'll see that across the board if you talk to Sen. Josh Hawley, if you talk to some -- even the president's most fervent backers. And that's an interesting dynamic to see, especially on Capitol Hill --

RAJU: Yeah.

ROTH: -- when you talk to Republicans.

RAJU: And with viewers, remind them about how Trump is talking about it. This is from January, earlier by him, talking about immunity and why he believes he should be protected at all costs.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have to have guaranteed immunity for a president. Otherwise, a president is not going to be able to function. They're not going to move. Harry Truman would not have done -- Harry Truman would not have done Hiroshima, Nagasaki. You know, you have to allow a president to do his job. They'll make decisions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: I suspect this is going to be a topic in the debate next week, too.


RAJU: What do you make of just Trump -- his argument here. I mean, he's basically saying -- I mean, his team in court is saying that unless he's impeached and then convicted by the Senate, then that's when he can be prosecuted, not before then.

BIRENBAUM: What will be interesting to me I think is whether Biden sort of presses this at the debate because I think the Biden campaign has been try to -- especially after he was found guilty in the case in New York, which is entirely separate -- but trying to really hammer home the contrast between Biden and Trump, especially saying Trump is a criminal.

And so I think --

RAJU: Yeah.

BIRENBAUM: -- with something that's undecided like this but something that's key to Biden's appeal, which is this defense of democracy and wanting voters to be reminded of January 6 and Trump's role in it, I'll be really curious to see if Biden sort of presses that point, particularly if as you're saying if we see more delays with the trial and depending on what the Supreme Court says. There's a lot still up in the air about that.

RAJU: What do you think -- how do Democrats view how Biden has taken advantage or not taken advantage of the fact that Donald Trump was convicted on 34 felonies? I mean, you've heard some of that get into the messaging of Biden. There was this new campaign ad this week attacking Trump over the convictions.

Is -- are there -- are Democrats -- do Democrats believe that he has effectively used this as a political weapon against Trump?

ROTH: I think that they do. I think that they're treading very lightly because we have seen after trial, this conviction, a lot of times former President Trump's support just goes up. So this is something that they're treading very lightly over.

But when you talk to Democrats they acknowledge this is such a big moment for the former president -- or for the current president. This is his moment to prove that he can do this another four years. And he has more on the line technically, really, than former President Trump. So they recognize this is going to be a big moment.

RAJU: Yeah.

ROTH: And as Gabby said, obviously, he's going to bring some of this up in the debate. RAJU: Yeah. I mean, look, the debate next week -- we learned yesterday that Donald Trump is going to get the final word. He's going to -- but the -- this is the coin toss. There is an agreement. They each had to make a decision about -- Biden, on what side of the stage to stand on, and Trump on the other side. Trump agreed that -- wanted to be the last person to speak here.

But for Trump, the interesting thing will be that the muting of the mics, right? Like, the -- when you're not speaking your mic is muted. That was not the case back in 2020. And that, in some ways, was one of Donald Trump's worst moments in the debate. Maybe perhaps some muting of the mics could help him this time.

BIRENBAUM: I think it depends, right? I mean, we've seen Biden and Trump debate before, right? This is the thing with this president -- presidential election. Nothing is necessarily new on the table here.

So I hope and I think people will tune into the debate to see what is the vision for a second term. I think it will be easier perhaps for Biden to present that without Trump interrupting constantly -- on mic, anyway.

But yeah, I mean, a lot of his most incendiary comments will come particularly in the debate, sort of off the cuff as he's hearing and responding to other people. And so, I wonder if it's beneficial for him, for Biden, and for us as viewers for not having to see that back- and-forth.

RAJU: Yeah.

I want to ask you, Gabby, about one -- some reporting that you have here about Nevada Democrats suing the kick RFK Jr. off the presidential ballot over party affiliations.


You write the Nevada Democratic Party is leading this effort to keep RFK Jr. from appearing on Nevada's presidential ballot. They're alleging in a lawsuit that is expected to be filed on Thursday in state court that Kennedy's affiliation with other political parties violates Nevada's legal requirements for independent candidates.

So this could be a model for removing Kennedy from up ballots in states with similar laws.

Given -- what is -- what are you hearing about the concern? Kennedy is not in the debate next week but obviously, there's a concern among Democrats that he peel votes away from Biden.

BIRENBAUM: Yeah. I think both campaigns are honestly worried about him being a spoiler. You see some polls where he's pulling from Biden and some where he's pulling from Trump. I think whenever third-party candidates emerge, the two parties get scared, right? That's not what they want.

RAJU: Yeah. Who do you think -- I mean, do you think it's Trump or Biden that gets impacted more by RFK Jr.?

ROTH: That's a good question. I think -- I think potentially, it could be former President Trump.

I wrote a whole story about how this could impact the elections in Arizona --

RAJU: Um-hum.

ROTH: -- a state where it is just full of battleground. And I'm a native Arizonan and to see this, it's been really an interesting dynamic. But in a state like that, a third-party candidate could absolutely swing this election. And I think a lot of the thinking is that at this time, RFK Jr. could take away some votes from former President Trump.

RAJU: Yeah. That's why Trump has been attacking RFK Jr. But Biden has not. I mean, yes, it's -- some of his surrogates have. The party -- state parties have. But Biden, personally, has stayed away from it.

Do we think that at some point he's going to -- the president himself will start going after RFK Jr.?

BIRENBAUM: I think he might not need to; I think. I mean, if they can limit his ballot access, which in Nevada, Democrats are suing to do. And he's also not helped himself. He misspelled the United States on a document and he had to resubmit it. That's the campaign.

RAJU: A complicated word to spell.

BIRENBAUM: Right -- it's really tough.

They brought -- they brought in less money than they made in the month of May. Their cash on hand is more like a Senate campaign at this point --

RAJU: Um-hum.

BIRENBAUM: -- than a presidential. I think he's running into the wall that a lot of third-party candidates I think hit at this point in the election cycle.

And so, for Biden, I think if his surrogates, if the DNC, if state parties, if some of the people he's brought in to deal with this third-party threat can effectively get rid of it, he himself might not have to address it.

RAJU: Yeah. And he doesn't have much money maybe raised, but his running mate has a lot of money. Maybe that will help neutralize things.

All right, Gabby Birenbaum and Samantha-Jo Roth. Thank you both for joining me this morning. I really appreciate it.

BIRENBAUM: Thank you. RAJU: All right. We're less than a week away from the first presidential debate right here on CNN. Both candidates getting ready to face one another for the first time in nearly four years. It's an historic rematch -- the first time a sitting president will debate a former president.

Here is CNN's Jeff Zeleny with an in-depth look at what to expect heading into Thursday night.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The historic rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is anything but a rerun. A vastly different set of issues are driving this race as the president and former president come face-to-face for the first debate of the 2024 campaign -- four years since they shared a stage.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're the worst president America has ever had.

TRUMP: Hey, Joe, let me --

BIDEN: Come on.

TRUMP: In 47 months, I've done more than you've done in 47 years, Joe.

ZELENY (voice-over): It feels like an upside-down lifetime ago back when the coronavirus pandemic was raging.

TRUMP: I think masks are OK. You have to understand, if you look -- I mean, I have a mask right here. I put a mask on when I think I need it.

BIDEN: This is his economy that's being -- he shut down.

ZELENY (voice-over): In the Biden-Trump sequel, an entirely new fight has been brewing on the campaign trail --

TRUMP: We could end up in World War III with this person. He's the worst president ever.

ZELENY (voice-over): -- and in TV ads --

BIDEN CAMPAIGN AD: This election is between a convicted criminal who is only for himself, and a president who is fighting for your family.

ZELENY (voice-over): -- that offers a window into the new issues and fresh lines of attack -- a reminder of just how much the country, the world, and yes, they have changed -- from an insurrection and all its fallout to a new fight on abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe versus Wade, to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and a war in the Middle East, to the very stark question of America's role in the world. Yet, the economy, inflation, and immigration are still at the center of it all.

Trump's record was at the heart of their last debates even as he sought to deflect.

TRUMP: If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you've never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell. And it'll be a very, very sad day for this country.

ZELENY (voice-over): While those warnings didn't come to pass, Biden's record is now under the microscope, complicating his effort to make it a referendum on Trump.

BIDEN: The fact is that everything he's saying so far is simply a lie. I'm not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he's a liar.

ZELENY (voice-over): And America's oldest presidential candidates are even older -- Trump, 78; Biden, 81 -- with age and fitness for office now a central issue in the race.

Public opinion for presidents can be punishing. Biden's favorability has fallen 11 points since 2020 with nearly six in 10 Americans holding an unfavorable view. Perceptions of Trump have changed less, with more than half still seeing him in an unfavorable light.


Television debates have long been a storied part of presidential campaigns with history making moments for candidates.


ZELENY (voice-over): Yet this showdown is without parallel. The nation's 45th and 46th presidents still seeking to define one another in the earliest general election debate in memory. An old duel being fought on new ground.

ZELENY: And it will be an extraordinary sight -- a sitting president facing a former president. It simply has never happened in a televised debate in American history. Of course, the last debate was all about Trump's record. Now this one is likely to be about Biden's record. Of course, both candidates are still trying to draw that contrast with one another.

One thing that's clear. This is the earliest debate in presidential campaign history. The question is will this define the race for the months to come?

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Washington.


RAJU: All right. Next, serious concerns about Israel's Iron Dome after increased threats from Hezbollah. Plus, MLB honors the Negro Leagues at America's oldest pro ballpark. The Bleacher Report is next.


[05:45:38] RAJU: All right. Fears of a widening war in the Middle East escalating this morning with the U.S. expressing serious concerns about Israel's security as it prepares for an incursion into Lebanon. Clashes with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah surging in the last several weeks. But U.S. officials fear Hezbollah could overwhelm the Israeli air defense system in the north known as the Iron Dome in the event of a full-blown war.

Now, warnings and threats coming from both sides on Thursday.


DAVID MENCER, IDF SPOKESPERSON: We will use all means necessary to restore security on our northern border, whether diplomatically or militarily. One way or another, we will ensure the safe and secure return of Israelis to their homes in Northern Israel.

HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH CHIEF (through translator): If the war was imposed on Lebanon, Hezbollah will fight with no regulations, no rules, and no ceilings. Israel knows that there will be no place in the country safe from our missiles and our drones.


RAJU: All right. Joining me now to discuss, Democratic strategist and former deputy assistant secretary for the Obama administration, Joel Rubin. Joel, good morning. Thanks for being here.


RAJU: So how real are these concerns of an all-out war?

RUBIN: They're very serious. This is not something to look away from at all and I'm glad the Biden team is out there. Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon trying to calm the waters and get the Lebanese government to engage, but they don't have a lot of control over Hezbollah.

Now, look, Hezbollah is being director by Iran. Iran has an interest in keeping this as a hot border. And Israel has been striking into southern Lebanon because largely, Hezbollah is displacing Northern Israelis from their homes -- civilians in Israel. Roughly 100,000 have been displaced.

And so the heat is turning up. I think that Israel -- they see this as part of a long continue with struggles. There has not been a major war since 2006 and it looks like we might be heading there up on the Lebanese border.

RAJU: Wow. And so, look, one thing that Matt Miller, the State Department spokesman, said yesterday -- he said the best way to unlock the possibility of a resolution against the Israel-Lebanese border would be achieving a ceasefire in Gaza. But obviously, that has been elusive, so -- RUBIN: It's been highly elusive. And look, Hamas has not agreed to what President Biden proposed. That is what needs to calm the waters. The problem for the White House is that they're speaking rational, normal, legitimate policy that the broader region wants. But this not what Iran is looking for. It is not what Hamas wants and Hezbollah.

As we saw in that clip, Hezbollah has been waging an ongoing war of attrition against Israel. And the dynamics are, however, that Israel can't fight this all alone.

RAJU: Um-hum.

RUBIN: It needs broader regional allies. We saw in April that when Iran shot ballistic missiles into Israel, multiple countries, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, came to Israel's defense alongside the United States. That's the kind of coalition they need. And they need to step back not make this a unilateral war against Hezbollah. That will be a very dangerous situation for the Israelis.

RAJU: Meantime, the way that Israel has been prosecuting this war has been an increased source of tension between --

RUBIN: Yeah.

RAJU: -- Biden and Netanyahu. And Netanyahu has been increasingly vocal about his criticism of President Biden and his administration, and about Biden's threats and stuff to withhold weapons in the event of an all-out invasion into Rafah.

Netanyahu said this earlier this week.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: It's inconceivable that in the past few months the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.


RAJU: And then yesterday, the White House's national security spokesman responded, saying this.


JOHN KIRBY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN: Those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide. Again, it was vexing and disappointing to us, as much as it was incorrect.


RAJU: Vexing and disappointment seem to the word of that in the moment.

But --

RUBIN: That's the understatement.

RAJU: That is the understatement.

So, just to -- before you weigh in, there's some -- a new interview out this morning. My friend and colleague -- former colleague Jake Sherman from Punchbowl News interviewing Benjamin Netanyahu himself.

And he asked him, "Do you think Biden is doing this for domestic political considerations?"


And Netanyahu responds he didn't know what was causing it. But he said, "But I'm aware that there has been a great slowdown in the provision of the important ammunition and weapons. I'm not talking about F-35s or F-16s that are years down the line. I'm talking about what is necessary now to both win the war in Gaza quickly and avoid a war in Lebanon that, in the absence of such a correction, the risks of it breaking out are..." seems to be pretty high. At least, he is concerned about that -- are increasing.

What's your reaction to that? He's basically saying that the U.S. is making it harder for Israel to win.

RUBIN: Yeah, Manu. I think that first of all, Admiral Kirby was very diplomatic. I would have said thanks for nothing.

But look, this White House has been leaning into military support of Israel since October 7 -- since prior to October 7. But in recent days, even pushed through the Hill and F-15 transfer.

Look, Israel, in terms of its military operations in Gaza, has more than enough ordnances. The problem in the slowdown from what the prime minister is talking about is that the Israelis themselves have decided to manage this in a manner where they are engaged aggressively. But they are also doing it in a manner that they are taking care now of civilian lives in Rafah.

And I just -- I think that the prime minister -- he needs to start looking internally in Israel right now. He lost his unity coalition. He lost Benny Gantz for the war cabinet. He does not have a plan for the day after, which is what the president and the White House have been calling for. And so now he's putting up sort of false arguments about Israel's military operations.

Israel needs the United States. It needs the United States military backing. This is the message that he has coming to Congress in a month. He's going to lose Democrats even further. And he needs to maintain this --

RAJU: Yeah.

RUBIN: -- bipartisan support. And that's not what that statement did.

RAJU: Yeah. And we'll see what he does when he speaks to Congress. You were there the last time. RUBIN: That's right.

RAJU: This time we'll see if it's more tense or when -- the impacts of his comments when he talks to Congress in July.

All right, Joel Rubin. Thanks for joining me this morning.

RUBIN: Thanks, Manu.

RAJU: I really appreciate it.

All right. It was an emotional night in Birmingham, Alabama as Major League Baseball paid tribute to the Negro Leagues and the late Willie Mays.

Carolyn Manno has more in this morning's Bleacher Report.


The first Major League Baseball game at Rickwood Field, the oldest professional ballpark in the United States, was made even more meaningful as it came just days after the passing of Giants legend Willie Mays who started his career there.

Incredible scenes last night. The 114-year-old ballpark, the former home of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues where the 'Say Hey Kid' started his legendary career. The sold-out crowd that was there chanting "Willie! Willie!" after a video tribute played before his beloved Giants took the field against the Cardinals. And the players were joined by the veterans of the Negro Leagues -- men who are now in their 80s and 90s.

And in an emotional interview -- a poignant interview -- Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson actually spoke about what it meant to him to return to the ballpark where he played as a Minor Leaguer back in 1967.


REGGIE JACKSON, BASEBALL HALL OF FAMER: Coming back here is not easy. The racism that I played here -- when I played here. The difficulty of going through different places where we traveled. Fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it. But I wouldn't with it on anybody.

People said to me today -- I spoke and they said do you think you're a better person? Do you think you won when you played here and conquered? I said, you know, I would never wanted to do it -- want to do it again.


MANNO: It was easy for the actual game to get lost amid all the pageantry and the celebration. The Cardinals struck first, highlighted by a two-run shot from Alabama native Brendan Donovan in the first. He finished with three hits for St. Louis, who held on to win 6-5.

But just a really important night of reflection.

And after weeks of speculation, the Los Angeles Lakers have reportedly found their next head coach. JJ Redick set to sign a four-year deal, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The 39-year-old played in the NBC -- NBA, excuse me, for 15 seasons and has no coaching experience other than with his son's youth basketball team. But he has spent the last three years as an analyst with ESPN and co-hosts a basketball podcast with Lakers superstar LeBron James.

So, Redick reportedly set to replace Darvin Ham, who was fired in May after two seasons with the Lakers.

Last week, UConn coach Dan Hurley turned down the job to chase a third-straight national title with the Huskies.

The Chicago Sky's Angel Reese making WNBA history yesterday, pouring in 16 points and grabbing a career-high 18 boards in an 83-72 win against the Dallas Wings. Her seventh straight double-double is the longest streak ever for a rookie. Candace Parker holding the record for any player with 12.

A soccer-filled summer has gotten even bigger with the start of the Copa America tournament right here in the United States. Defending champs Argentina got their campaign started with a two-nil win over Canada in front of more than 70,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.


And they came to see the superstar Leo Messi, who had numerous scoring chances before ultimately adding an assist in the 88th minute that put the match away.

But next up for Argentina, Chile at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium on Tuesday, a day after Messi's 37th birthday. So that's been really fun to see. Talks that this could be his last international tournament. Fans hoping not.

And what a night to remember for American Lilly King at the Olympic trials inside Lucas Oil Stadium, finishing second in the women's 200- meter breaststroke final Thursday night. She qualified for Paris earlier this week by winning the 100 meters. She's set to become the first U.S. woman to swim in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at three straight Olympics.

But then her boyfriend, James Wells, got down on one knee afterwards and popped the question on Thursday night. So the answer was a yes -- or should we say oui, oui with Paris on the horizon. But King and Wells both swam at Indiana University together, Manu. Wells, himself, competing at three Olympic trials.

So she already has a gold, a silver, and a bronze, but I am sure she is thrilled to add a diamond to the mix. Big congratulations to them both. Really fun scene last night.

RAJU: Yeah, that is really fun. A nice ending to that -- a very nice moment there.

Thanks, Carolyn, for that.

All right. Next, no thanks. At least that's what one Republican Senate candidate said who just rejected an endorsement from Donald Trump. Plus, how Trump and President Biden are preparing for the big CNN debate now less than a week away.